Last month, DynaStudy, a small, relatively new Austin, Texas, educational publisher of study guides was victorious in a copyright infringement lawsuit against the Houston school district. According to the Houston Chronicle, the jury found “dozens” of district employees committed “hundreds” of copyright violations that prompted the large damage award.

The Chronicle describes evidence that staff knowingly disregarded the copyrights on multiple study guides when they widely reproduced and distributed copies to students and other staff, sometimes after covering copyright warnings and company logos. Some guides altered in the Houston schools ended up on the Internet, where they spread to out-of-state school districts and others within Texas.

The district reportedly issued a statement in response to the verdict that it will increase its employee copyright training.

Fair use

According to Above the Law, one of the defenses raised was that the reproductions made “fair use” of the copyrighted guides, which would have made the copying a legal, but limited use of the copyrighted materials even without owner permission. According to federal copyright law, one recognized purpose for fair use is in “teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use).”

Even if a use falls in an accepted category like teaching, the particular use must be examined in light of four factors:

  • Character and purpose of use, including whether it a commercial use or “for nonprofit educational purposes”
  • Nature of original work
  • “[A]mount and substantiality” of the “portion used” as compared to the entire work
  • Impact the use will have on the “market for or value of” the original, copyrighted work

The author of the Above the Law article feels that the use was not fair because the “amount and substantiality” of the use was of the entirety of each guide copied, except for the removed copyright warning and logo. In addition, the copying directly and substantially affects the market for the guides because neither students nor the district would buy the guides from the publisher since they already were getting them free.